Along East Executive Avenue next to the White House, the air throbbed with sounds of horns, bells, fire engine klaxons, vendors hawking buttons, snatches of "America the Beautiful," news broadcasts, police walkie-talkies, loudspeakers, the rataplan of flagpoles against the wrought-iron fence, whistles, idling cycles, laughter, cheering, horse hooves clopping, camera shutters clicking, and oak branches rattling as kids swung up into the boughs the better to see inside the White House grounds and the 52 who had come home.
For the second time in the span of a week Washington resounded with the clamor of a great national event.
Thousands carried a celebration into the Washington workaday streets, waving golden banners and tossing streams of confetti, shouting, whistling, applauding, exulting.
On the ninth floor of the Washington Building at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW yesterday morning there was a move afoot to strip June Phlueger of her pale yellow blouse.
"It's either that or we hang you from the window," said a coworker, Carrol Jones, as the two women looked outside from the law offices of Pledger and Mahoney and saw yellow streamers and ribbons festooning nearby buildings. "We have to display something ."
They went next door to see if they could use yellow memo stickers, but were refused. They thought about going downstairs to the drugstore, but were told by a passerby that the store was all out of yellow ribbon.
Then Jones got a brainstorm. She went downstairs to a teletype room and returned, giggling, with her arms full of yellow teletype machine paper.
Sure enough, when the motorcade carrying the former hostages turned up 15th Street yesterday, yellow paper hung from windows all along the ninth floor. Pledger and Mahoney were not left out, and June Phlueger, waving and cheering, was still wearing her blouse.
At 14th and Pennsylvania, an old man in a soiled beret was buying yellow pennants from a vendor on the corner and then pressing them on passersby for free.
"These are free, free ," he said to one woman who shunned him. "They're fighting me," he said. "I've spent $65 on these pennants because those hostages are some kind of people, real American guts, you know? I'd just drink it away anyway, if you want to know the truth."
Kevin Guiry thought Washington would be a piece of cake. He and four other vendors had made a near fortune in West Point over the weekend selling American flags and hostage bumper stickers and buttons to tourists who flocked to the academy town to welcome the Americans home.
They arrived in Washington early yesterday and set up their stands all along Pennsylvania Avenue, expecting to make a quick profit and scamper back home to Connecticut.
Instead, they ran up against D.C. police vendor squad officer D. W. Brooks who hadn't had breakfast yesterday and was in a surly mood.
"Where's your vendor permit?" Brooks asked Buiry, 19, after the man sold several buttons to a group of schoolchildren. Guiry admitted he didn't have one, whereupon Brooks read him his rights, arrested him and called a patrol car to take him to central lockup.
"Damn, Brooks," said one of the officers who arrived in the patrol car several minutes later. "That's three already. Why you so mean today?"
"I'm hungry," he replied. "We got information there's thirty, maybe forty more of these cats from New York and Philly around here. Gonna go down the street and pick up some more."
"Most have a lot of guys on the vendor beat today, huh?" a passerby asked.
"Yeah," Brooks barked back, "One."
Wating for the motorcade, William Zepka, principal of Groveton Elementary School in Alexandria, jumped into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and led his young students in cheers, then turned to the crowd on the other side of the street and urged cheers from them.
"Hip hip horray !" shouted Groveton Elementary.
"Now that side," Zepka said.
"Hip hip hooray!" the crowd responded, with less zeal.
"Now this side!"
"HIP HIP HOORAY !"
"This side wins," said Zepka, to his joyful charges.
"We always win," said 9-year-old Scott Falbo. "We have the loudest mouths."
"My brother has the loudest mouth of all," said Scott's 6-year-old sister Terri.
John Bruynzeel, a preacher from Netherlands, carried a billboard as he sermonized up and down the avenue in his fur hat, rattling a tambourine and singing "Hallelujah glory glory . . ."
"There is still hope for this nation," he said. "We're showing the people the way to heaven, especially the government, you know?Oh glory glory."
Bruynzeel jumped back as D.C. motorcycle police throttled past, pinching their sirens and leaving a trail of exhaust that started some in the crowd on coughing fits.
Along 15th Street across from the Treasury Building, two officers tried frantically to string up a restraining wire, using nearby wire-mesh trash cans and traffic poles. A block away at 15th and Pennsylvania, U.S. Park Police workers were still trying to set up wooden barricades even as the bulk of the motorcade passed. The workemen just gave up and waved along with the rest of the crowd.
Finally, workmen finished the barricade -- just in time for the great crowd that surged up Pennsylvania Avenue behind the motorcade to come tromping through and push it aside.
"Thank god it's a friendly crowd," said a policeman.
After the motorcade passed, people surged around the wrought-iron bars fencing off the south lawn of the White House. Many were students and they broke into "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful," choruses overlapping discordantly as if in some atonal round.
Mary Ann McClean, a student at Catholic University, climbed up piggy-back on the shoulders of her friend Alex DeSeabra and craned over the crush of celebrants for a view of the ceremony going on inside the White House grounds.
"More over, Alex, I got a good view," she commanded her tottering porter. "There! You can see the air forces, and stuff. The Naval Academy's on a podium, and there's dignitaries all over the place."
"Tell me, where's the White House?" came DeSeabra's muffled voice.
"It's right there," said McClean.
On the north side the crowds peering at the White House portico beheld a novel sight: a crescent of Metro-buses parked around the half-moon driveway, all marked "chartered," all empty.